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Delft mama of the week: Tarja

When I first started to write about the Delft moms of the week, to be honest I didn’t have the slightest idea how to interview people, let alone write about the amazing mothers in our community. The first mothers were mere pictures with one or two lines of text running underneath, usually photographed at playgroups or workshops. Gradually, I started asking people more questions and eventually I realized I was doing a mini Delft MaMa version of the world-famous Humans of New York blog that had been online for years.

Most of the mothers I’ve photographed and interviewed are mothers that I’ve known at least by name beforehand. After doing it for a while, I felt it was too much pressure for me to go choosing who to interview, so I simply started asking the mothers to nominate their friends to be moms of the week, which led me to meet yet another round of fantastic women.

I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to mothers from all continents in the world. Those that are mothers of newborns and those with a teenager or two. I’ve listened to life stories from as many perspectives as there were mothers, and each and every one has been open about who they are and how they look at their lives.

And the things that I’ve learned…

Whether it’s mothers, women or people in general, we are all ultimately almost shockingly similar. Surely there are differences that make us individual, but I simply mean I have been able to relate to every single person I’ve been talking to, in one way or another. My simple conclusion is that it does not matter at all where someone comes from: we often have similar struggles, challenges and things we find joy in. Children mean the world to every mother I’ve spoken to, and as much as I’ve aimed to highlight the mother behind the children, the topic often turned onto the children.

Many international mothers in Delft region are at a transition, looking to take the next step, as much as their toddlers. They are often unaware what the next step should be, yet many times they have very clear ideas on where they want to end up. Instinctively we seem to know it’s important to stay in motion, no matter the speed, as long as we keep on moving with an open mind.

Becoming a mother has woken many women to question the ideals of motherhood, the roles of mothers and women in the society and their own dreams and motivations. We start by raising children and end up being raised by our children into better versions of ourselves. For many of our moms only parenthood has taught them what needed to change for the world to be better for their children – or what would make it better for future mothers.

It’s essential for me to say I’ve learned an incredible amount from all the mothers, and I’m grateful for each and every one who agreed to be in the spotlight and allowed me the time to grow as an interviewer and a writer. Whenever I asked mothers to nominate each other, many of the mothers nominated me to write about myself. I always thanked them for their suggestions and replied that I was going to write about myself the moment I was writing the last piece for the Delft MaMa blog as a farewell. Evidently, that is now.

The Dutch-Finnish children, Viola (9), Felix (5), and Jonatan (4) me and my Dutch husband, Emile, are lucky to be the parents of, are all school children at this point. This said, I have less and less chances to get to know newcomers. It’s important to make room for the new moms (and dads!) with fresh perspectives, who are recently discovering the joys and challenges of motherhood in a foreign country.

Luckily for the readers, for a while I haven’t been the only one writing under the title “mom of the week”, as Marie and Agnes joined in on it too, so this is not the end of the series as far as I can tell. It’s simply my time to put the pencil down at this blog. My only regret is that I know dozens of wonderful women that should’ve been in the spotlight. However, this is something many of you can fix by grabbing that pencil and continuing this series.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the people I’ve interviewed: “A lot of our moms are doing something interesting. There is so much potential around us!” Let’s keep on discussing our ideas openly with each other in the future as well!

Yours truly,

Tarja van Veldhoven

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Delft mama of the week: Tatjana

The day I met Tatjana was full of rain, clouds and gray – a typically glum Dutch scene. As I walked to our meeting, the clouds abated, and rays of sunlight shimmered on the rainy surfaces to make Delft’s canals even more picturesque. Tatjana’s warm smile welcomed me for a cup of coffee and the day seemed to take on a new light. At risk of sounding trite, I could easily compare Tatjana to the lovely sunshine on that August evening. She is an open, warm and optimistic person, who brings out the best in her surroundings and attracts people to spend more time in her radiant glow.

Tatjana’s sunny personality, though, is not the result of a golden childhood or easy lot in life. Indeed, our Delft Mama of the week has weathered many storms over the years. Born in Yugoslavia, Tatjana’s first years were spent under a communist regime. As the Cold War ended, Yugoslavia imploded. In the war that ensued, Tatjana’s family had to flee the Serbian army that invaded their hometown in Croatia. As Tatjana recounts, “ when I was 11 years old, my home town, Petrinja, was destroyed. We lost our home, and my father only managed to save two photo albums before we fled. We were refugees for four years.”

Life as a refugee entailed not only this initial loss but also the strain of constant moving. According to Tatjana, “I moved almost every year to a new place and would have to change schools. As a kid you are trying to look at everything in a positive way. You start going to a new school and meet new friends, which is nice, but when you are constantly forced to move and start all over again, you feel that enough is enough.”  

The family also suffered financial difficulties, as her father, a Croat, was often the sole breadwinner. Tatjana’s mom is Serb, and her mother was not trusted and often discriminated against in finding work in Croatia. Tatjana told me, though, that “once people actually interact with my mother, their views change. At one hospital where she worked, as a Serb, she was initially an undesired employee. However, her colleagues cried over her leaving several years later.”

Despite these early experiences of the ugly side of human nature, or perhaps showing wisdom beyond her years in confronting these difficulties, Tatjana became a strong, positive, and, curious young lady. She studied political science in Zagreb and worked all sorts of jobs before and after graduating. Eventually she became a journalist working for some of the most significant media in her country.

After an early life already full of more than enough moves, Tatjana faced a challenging situation when a long-distance relationship with her now-husband, Eelco, become more serious. “When I first started dating him, the idea of moving from Croatia was not too appealing. After we decided that we really wanted to be together, though, it was logical that I come to the Netherlands.”

Moving to Delft almost perfectly corresponded with another big change in Tatjana’s life: she left her challenging and hectic life as journalist to become a stay at home mother. Tatjana and her husband welcomed a baby girl, Hannah, three months after her arrival in Delft. They see the experience as an adventure, and Tatjana seems refreshingly calm and relaxed about motherhood, relying on intuition rather than books or forums. She even recounted to me how on her most recent trip to Croatia, her friends voted her the least changed among the group since motherhood. She has kept her glow, but like most mothers looks forward to the days when she will have more free time to pursue her varied interests and talents including making clothing, photographing, going to concerts, exhibitions, theatre, reading, sports…

Tatjana is clearly enjoying her life in the Netherlands; “I am so happy that I actually came to live in Delft because I think it’s a perfect location. It is very close to the coast, and I take every opportunity I can to go to the beach. I also love being close to Rotterdam, which is my favorite Dutch city because it’s different from all the others; it’s really modern and a harbor city with an international feel.”

Tatjana had some local friends and acquaintances when she arrived in the Netherlands, and she was initially suspicious of what Delft MaMa could offer her. “I had heard about these international mamas meeting, but I thought it was a weird idea to become friends with people if the only thing we have in common is that we all have babies. I had joined the Delft MaMa Facebook group, though, and saw that a lot of interesting things were going on. This January, I thought maybe I should try to do something, and I started taking my daughter to playgroup.”

Tatjana has since become an active volunteer for Delft MaMa, heading the King’s Day Sale in April and frequently opening the playgroup. She has also met many new and interesting international moms, who she is building friendships with based upon shared interests. Now that she has received her official authorization to work, she is also on the lookout for new opportunities and new ways to contribute. She wants find a position that is “something very meaningful and will hopefully help people. I am now at this turning point, and I still have to decide which new path to take and which career is best for me.” I am absolutely certain that the path ahead will be bright and that the community will be enriched with Tatjana’s contribution.

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Delft MaMa of the week: Alis

Today’s mother of the week is the living proof that the reach of Delft MaMa knows no borders.

Alis, is a Catalan high school teacher for adults with special needs, a coach, a business woman, an entrepreneur, a Zumba, Pilates, aqua gym, baby-mum fitness instructor, a mother of three, the wife of a firefighter,… a never ending list.

Judging from all she does, with no muss no fuss, it is safe to assume that her days have 36 hours, instead of the 24 that the rest of us are given.

She does not live in Wonderland but surely close by.

Although she is not based in Delft, she takes every opportunity she has to pack her camper van and drive up north, nonstop, until she arrives. Sometimes alone, sometimes with the five of them.

She made herself known to the Delft MaMa audience last Easter, when, in the company of a large portable loudspeaker named “Ibiza” she made some of us and our under three years old, break a sweat at the rhythm of Shakira’s “bicicleta” (bicycle) at the Papaver in Delftse Hout.

Back in her natal city, Lleida, and next to her teaching duties, she organizes weekly fitness activities for mothers and babies. Weekends are for organizing activities with families with older kids.  

She is very passionate about many things, amongst which, to keep young families fit and connected.

As I was chatting with her, my biggest questions were: WHY? Why fitness for mums and babies? Why in Delft? Why working when you are on holidays? And HOW? “How many more holidays do you expect to spend in Delft?”

The “Why fitness for mothers and babies?” had a very straightforward answer:

When I was pregnant with my first child, my sisters-in-law, told me: “with the arrival of your baby, live as you know it will soon be over”.

As innocent and common this sentence is, it was enough to fuel her necessity to prove them wrong. That her much loved and awaited boy would not be the cause for her world to stop, not even to pause. And so it did not.

Right two weeks after he was born, she was back on track. Carrying her newborn in a wrap, she continued running  lessons at the gym. On the plus side, cycling on an elliptic bike and running on the belt seemed to be the only ways to keep her restless child at ease. Next to helping her drop some pregnancy pounds.

Ten years and three kids after, she has not stopped yet. What’s more, she has only broadened her skills and areas of expertise.

Then came the “Why Delft?” again, she answered without hesitation and with a fair share of magic. Once upon 2015…, … she took her kids camping for a few days whilst husband was on working duty. Right next to their tent, there was a father in his fifties with his teenage boy. The couple happened to be from the Netherlands, more precisely,  from Delft.
It took the occupants of the neighbouring tents a thunderstorm and the Dutchman’s need for an ATM to start talking. Right from that moment, they became good friends and up until today.
In December 2015, during a school break, Alis decided to come explore the city of Delft and see what it had to offer to her and the family.
Serendipity made that visit coincide with Lichtjesavond day. The astonishing beauty of the city together with idiosyncrasy of its inhabitants captivated her.

As she went back home waxing lyrical about the lowlands, together with her husband, they started planning the Easter and summer holidays of the family for 2016, whilst teaching herself Dutch.
The time spent in the campsite at Delftse Hout was a great success for the five of them, who jointly decided to turn Delft into their second home.

I was shy to ask, fearing to be intrusive or judgmental “Why working when you are on holidays?” but decided to go for it, as I was genuinely curious.

The answer was clear: “the only time I had holidays in the resting and doing nothing sense of the word, was on our honeymoon. Right on the first day of doing nothing, I started suffering from lumbago. It is clear that inactivity is not in my nature”.

Besides, I am convinced that she is a very generous person who likes to share more than anything in this world. Otherwise, how would one answer that during Easter she came all the way by herself to offer free training to any Delft MaMa that wanted to join her at the Papaver?

“How many more holidays do you expect to spend in Delft?”
In her own words: “I like to experience things fully. Putting my heart and soul into what makes me thrive at the moment it does. Carpe diem.”
Her clarity takes me to Lewis Carrolls’ book:

Alice: How long is forever?
White Rabbit: Sometimes just one second

Luckily, it seems that forever will last a little longer and we will get to enjoy Alis’ company and fitness know-how for the entire month of August at the Papaver and in the forest of Delftse Hout.

And maybe, who knows, she will come up with other activities to keep the Delft MaMa community engaged at the sound of a Vallenato or maybe the despacito?

 

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Delft mama of the week: Susan

When she opens her mouth, anyone would be under the impression she’s from Scotland. As a matter of fact, she often gets mistaken for Scottish even by the Scottish. However, once you ask her which part of the beautiful highlands she comes from, she’ll tell you she’s born in and bred in the flatlands of Holland, more precisely born in Amsterdam and bred in Zwolle.

As a little girl, Susan once had a very vivid dream. In the dream, she was running off a green hill out of the forest in a white dress with long hair and came alongside a cobblestone wall with a big tree. “I ended up in Ireland that was similar, but now I got a Scottish guy…” Susan explains. Only when she met her Scottish guy, Iain, and visited Scotland with him, she realized it was just like in her dream. Susan refuses to speculate the meaning of this dream, but it clearly has had a lasting impression on her.

Susan was just finishing school when she got a job at a new Irish bar in her hometown. This led her to get a job offer in Ireland, where she lived for four years, before returning to the Netherlands to study. Susan got her master’s in art, specializing in architectural history. It was a long stretch for her, as people had been telling her all her life that because of her dyslexia she doesn’t have what it takes to get through University. Somehow Susan managed to turn what others perceived her weakness into her strength and with the help of her University professor, she realized that because she observed the world differently, it gave her a big advantage as well. “I’m thinking very different than mainstream. In University, I did research my way; if I see a building, I can already build it in my mind. I didn’t know that people don’t do that,” Susan points out.

These days Susan is a busy mom of Aoife (8) and Fionn (3). Only through her daughter, Susan has started to deal with her own insecurities from her childhood and adolescence. Growing up, Susan felt a lot of people didn’t get her. “I see everything, I feel everything, I hear everything, I take everything in. I’m highly sensitive, open to everything. I learned that through Aoife, to be honest. She looks at the world the same way. She doesn’t fit in the regular schools and that made me look at my life. I think really quick, see things other people don’t see. I need to adjust all the time. It doesn’t make me cleverer, I just think different”, Susan casually points out and continues “Ever since Aoife, I can look at life and say “life isn’t that bad”. I always thought I was weird. Now I’m quite happy about my abilities.” She’s now also more forgiving to herself, since she learned to see things through her daughter.

Because of this amazing ability to take it all in, Susan is a highly creative person. She would love to do an exhibition for her photography “at least for the sake of trying out”, she says. She loves to create with her hands and looking at the things she has done or photographed, Susan clearly has a good sense of proportions, colour palettes and composition. Susan tells me she has made some bags and buttons, but doesn’t like repeating the creative process to make a product. It’s art all the way for her.

She’s soon pushing forty and since her kids are already going to school and growing up quick, she’s at the brink of her on blossoming. “I was thinking the other day about going for my PhD. People always told me I wasn’t good enough, but I realized there is the TU here, so I might! I’m going to look into it. My time will come,” Susan says with anticipation. Personally, listening to her for more than an hour, I cannot but agree.

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Delft mama of the week: Elizabeth

Our Delft mama of the week, Elizabeth, has worked as a political consultant, a NASA tour guide, and a lawyer, volunteered for the Sisters of the Holy Cross in Ghana, traveled to 30 countries and 45/50 US states, and even been inside the Space Shuttle. Now she is a travel writer and full-time mom living in the Netherlands.

In 2015, Elizabeth’s husband, Jeff, was offered the exciting opportunity to complete his PhD at TU Delft, and Elizabeth and her two older sons eagerly joined him. They saw Delft as a charming town in its own right and an ideal base to travel around Europe. A third son joined the family and their travels in 2016.

Elizabeth is clearly enamored of the Netherlands and of Delft in particular. She describes it as “a real town with the advantage for expats that everybody speaks English and that you can find friends. There are a million little restaurants in every price bracket, and there are parks hiddeneverywhere. You can go climb the windmill, go to the farm and buy eggs, or see sheep at the petting zoo. These are just so many opportunities in this special town.”

A half year before arriving in Delft, she found the Delft MaMa Facebook group and connected with fellow Coloridan Caroline. When she first arrived in town, Caroline helped connect her to Delft MaMa friends and resources, giving her an invaluable piece of advice: “surround yourself with expats who are excited to be here in Netherlands, as your local friends will largely determine your mood.” Elizabeth has put this advice to good use, not only finding supportive friends, but also making herself a valued member of the Delft MaMa community. She co-coordinates the weekly Delft MaMa newsletter with Karen, and in the coming months, you may have the chance to read an original post or two of hers on the Delft MaMa blog.

Elizabeth believes that “Delft MaMa is a wonderful resource that provides something for every personality type. If you are a one-on-one person, there are many events. Ifyou need mom friends, you can go to a Mom’s Night Out. If you need friends for your children, there are playgroups. If you are just are looking for advice, you can ask on the Facebook, and the newsletter details what’s going on locally in the coming months. When I travel, I usually look for something like Delft MaMa, but a lot of places either do not have an equivalent or the local international family group is not on the same level as a support group.”

Elizabeth is thriving in Europe, but the decision to move to the Netherlands was not so straightforward from a professional perspective, as her visa status precludes her from working locally. Elizabeth’s optimistic and driven personality, though, have helped her to embrace this difficulty and turn it into many opportunities – that to spend more time with her children, blog actively, and pursue other endeavors close to her heart, particularly traveling.

Elizabeth’s blog, Dutch Dutch Goose, started as a way to share her European travel experiences with family and friends and as an outlet for her creative and professional talents. Dutch Dutch Goose soon became a popular resource for families around the world. Her post on traveling from the US to Europe on the Queen Mary 2 with children was a particular hit, given the lack of information available on this topic online. Thanks to the success of her own blog Elizabeth was also asked to become editor-in-chief of BebeVoyage, a global community of parents providing local, practical advice on traveling with kids.

Elizabeth and her husband traveled widely before having children and have decided to use travel as an educational tool with their children. They firmly believe that “the places we see and people we meet during our different travel experiences help make our children better human beings. Exposing our kids to so many different tastes, modes of transportation, ways of living, and cultures is the most wonderful gift we can give them.”

Elizabeth is also always challenging herself and looking for ways to grow and learn through travel. For example, this careful planner took a trip this year without having organized any specific destinations or itineraries. You can find more about how the family managed this adventure in spontaneity here.

Through her blog, Elizabeth also shows families around the world that travel with children may be challenging but that it is both a feasible and a rewarding experience. For Elizabeth, there is no need to travel for many weeks or to a distant location to make a trip great, as visiting a nearbyfarm or museum can be just as valuable.

There is also no need to force your children to immerse completely in every aspect of a trip. Instead, do your best to ensure your children are comfortable and enjoying their time traveling, even if this means allowing them to look at the iPad on some museum visits or play at a local playground for some hours rather than visiting a site. Elizabeth notes, “I find that the kids absorb so much of the little stuff while traveling, like going to playgrounds and to kids cafes, as opposed to all the big tourist sites. At these places, they get a better picture of the local culture, differences in parenting, and differences in interactions between the kids.”

Furthermore, “the best trip for me is one where each member of the family has something that peaked their interest, and we have all gotten along and enjoyed ourselves as a family.” During our interview, Elizabeth described how a trip to Brussels’ train hostel that was requested and largely planned by her eldest son fits the bill.

To summarize some of her expert advice, Elizabeth encourages parents to know their kids and make them comfortable, know that disasters happen and don’t let them ruin trips, plan the right balance of activities parents are interested in and child-friendly activities in an itinerary, and allow children to absorb the little details during trips that show cultural differences.

One word that kept popping up during our conversation was “gift,” with travel as a gift, living in Delft as a gift, and even her local un-employability as a gift in disguise. Elizabeth also described her time interacting and talking to her kids while biking as a daily gift and one of the highlights of her life in the Netherlands. I hope all Delft mamas can also recognize and take advantage of the multitude of gifts in their lives and embrace challenges with as strong a positive attitude as Elizabeth. Indeed, it is this zeal for life and focus on uplifting values like joy, discovery, and gratitude that make Elizabeth so charming and her blog posts so delightful to read.

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Delft mama of the week: Olga

Ever since I started writing about the moms of the week for Delft MaMa blog, I’ve been asking those who I interview to nominate other mothers to be the next moms of the week. The list is ever-growing, but sometimes someone is nominated multiple times and it’s time to get to know them better. This is exactly the case with our mom of the week, Olga, who has been nominated by others who look up to her every now and again.

Although Olga lives in Rijswijk these days, she’s one of the Delft MaMa pioneers. She joined the playgroup that used to gather at St. Olofspark back in the day. Olga joined after she got someone call the police on her, so her journey so far has been not only long, but a noteworthy one as well. “I reached out and it was fantastic. It’s all the support you get. If you have a problem, you know someone who may know the answer, or at least they might know someone who knows the answer,” Olga says.

She’s sitting across the table from me in Bagels & Beans on the Markt, which she chose for us to meet. Olga orders macha latte, a very trendy drink indeed. “It’s Japanese green tea powder,” she clarifies while sipping her healthy looking drink.

Olga was born in Poland, but partly grew up in Germany. Her parents spoke several languages to her in her youth and when Olga did Erasmus exchange program in Hamburg, she met her German now husband, Nikolai. His studies took him to Winnipeg, Canada, where Olga followed, just to try her wings since given the chance. She loved her time in Canada, although she spent that time working in telemarketing and customer service, which is ironic because Olga has always found talking on the phone difficult. In the end she’s glad she did it, as it gave her a yet broader perspective of the world around her. After the year in Canada, the couple moved back to Germany, where their first-born, Klara (8), was born and soon enough the family settled in Delft. In the years to follow Klara got company from her little sister, Julia (6), and little brother, Markian (4).

By the time they settled down, Olga had lived on two continents, four countries and countless addresses. It’s no wonder when figuring out her national identity, Olga found it very natural to refer to herself as a European Mama for her blog.

Having studied German in the University, she wasn’t exactly sure what was in the future for her. Before she started blogging, she thought blogging was for people who mainly wrote about themselves. Little did she know there already was a whole community out there with similar feelings and experiences to her. Accidentally, she tumbled into blogging and over the years found her audience growing. “What I don’t understand about blogging is that everyone tells you to find your niche and stick to it. After a while I get bored about a subject,” Olga says.

Even with blogging, Olga has been following her own intuition and has been writing about what she gets inspired about. Currently she’s responsible for one major parenting newsletter and writing paid articles about various subjects, ranging from motherhood to tech. She’s also working on publishing her grandfather’s text about his experiences. “It’s his story in a holocaust. He lived in Ukraine, but moved to Warsaw when situation was getting tough there and they thought it would be safer in Poland. They got caught in Warsaw uprising and his first wife died. I was thinking what would have happened if she survived. I wouldn’t be here. I think I owe her my life in a way,” Olga says and struggles finding the words about what she means to her.

Personally, I’ve known Olga since 2011, and every time I meet her, she leaves me with more questions than what I had in mind before meeting up with her. Even though this time I came to her with a bunch of questions, when our time together is up, she still manages to intrigue my curiosity to the point that this expectation is yet again met.

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Delft mama of the week: Xiaolin

Raising children in a foreign culture is always a challenge, and this week’s DelftMaMa Xiaolin is actively working to help Chinese children in the Netherlands have a strong and positive relationship with their cultural background.

I first met Xiaolin at the library last year, as she was showing some Chinese moms around, and I felt from the start that she was an astute leader and organizer. The more I have had the chance to speak with her and see her in action, the more this impression rings true. In the past two years alone, she has created a vibrant social media chat group for Chinese mothers in the Netherlands, organized many activities including a Lantern Festival celebration for over twenty families, coordinated a monthly children event on different topics (art / story / technology) and also coordinated weekly yoga class for mamas. Now, she and other like-minded moms is on the way to creat Chinese Mama’s in Nederland (CMN) association.

Xiaolin, originally from the city of Datong in Northern China, first came to Delft ten years ago as a student of chemical engineering at TU Delft. On her first day in Delft, she was paired in a group with Junju. He is now her husband, and they are parents to Yojan (2.5 years) and Minghe (11 months). Xiaolin has experiences in bringing together the best of different cultures not only as a Chinese native living in the West but also in her own marriage as Junju is from Taiwan, which is culturally similar to mainland China but does have many unique traditions.

The couple have lived all over the Netherlands, but are now happy to call Delft home once again. “After I graduated, I moved to many places including Leiden, Apedldoorn, Arnhem, and Rotterdam. But when we decided to settle down, we chose Delft, as it is an attractive city that contains both youth and old, modern and traditional. Therefore we made Delft our new hometown.”

She manages to feel very comfortable living in the Netherlands, although it is bittersweet to be separated from the rich cultural tradition of her homeland and the caring hands of her folks. She finds, “the Netherlands is a country that is not only attractive, it is also a country with values that resonate such as openness, honesty, and a balance between work of life that make us want to stay. ”

Friends describe Xiaolin as smart, dedicated, helpful, and cooperative. I would add that she is highly curious person, while she describes herself as a decisive person, “I am quite strict thinking-wise. If I think something is right, I will do it immediately. I do not think very deeply into the pros and cons of an issue. Once I have decided something, I go for it.” All of these traits surely helped Xiaolin in bringing together Chinese moms in the Netherlands.

Once Xiaolin became pregnant she decided that she needed to find a new group of friends who were either already moms or moms to be “I managed to meet many Chinese moms and decided to create the Chinese mamas moms in the Netherlands WeChat group. At that moment, I never imagined there were so many Chinese moms locally.” After only two years of existence, the Chinese Moms WeChat Group is already a large and active community with over 160 members. For those unfamiliar with the technology, WeChat is a social media application that is extremely popular and widely used in China and by Chinese speaking communities.

The moms wanted to go further, though, than simply chatting online and started to meet and discuss how they could channel their talents, interests, and shared goals into something larger.

As Xiaolin explains, “First-generation immigrants generally have a clear identity; we know who we are, we know our hometown, and we know why we came to the Netherlands. Culture-wise, though, our children are second generation immigrants, and very often the second generation of immigrants country feel lost. From their appearance, our children are from China, but from their education and experience growing up abroad they are completely different from their parents. We Chinese moms thus want to help educate our children to be a bridge between Chinese and Western culture. We want to help our children to be confident, aware of their Chinese heritage, and be proud of this identity.”

In the coming days, CMN will start its institutionalization process by publishing its mission and vision statement on a WeChat-related blog. The mission is to: 1) provide events and activities for Chinese families in the Netherlands; 2) create a shared platform for Chinese families in the Netherlands; 3) create development opportunities for Chinese families in the Netherlands and encourage and help them in the immigration process; 4) welcome foreigners and share the Chinese culture with the broader community.

The group is already actively organizing events to help transmit the beauty and richness of the Chinese culture and equip children to successfully integrate their double identity. “We worry very much that our children may forget the Chinese language and culture. We have thus decided to give the children courses and opportunities to play together. This way one day when they have started to think about their own identity and philosophy, they have not only parents to consult with but also their own friends who have similar background. These children will grow up together and share the same experiences. Hopefully, they will then not feel as lonely in their experience as second-generation immigrants often do.”

In March, CMN hosted their first art class with approximately thirty participants and are now lining up more art, storytelling, and technology classes. The challenge is not so much finding volunteers but catching up with the demand from all all interested families. According to Xiaolin, “we have some very professional and talented moms. These amazing women are willing to share their talents and help create activities for the children, but every time we announce a new class on WeChat, it is full within a half hour.”

The organization is focused on growing step by step and following through with its mission, but “there are a lot of things we don’t know yet. It is the first time we are moms, and this organization is something we can grow up together with our children.”

Xiaolin, who is active on the DelftMaMa Facebook group and has attended DelftMaMa playgroups, sees opportunities for mutual learning and sharing. “I have learned a lot so far from DelftMaMa, even just on the Facebook Group. It is a mature organization, and there is a lot we can learn from DelftMaMa. There are a lot of professional moms involved in DelftMaMa, and I would hope that one day we can sit down together and share experiences and lessons learned. I would be very enthusiastic about that.”

Juggling her career, raising two children, and being very active in associational life is a challenge, but Xiaolin shared one very effective insight that has have helped her maintain time for herself and be so effective even with such a busy schedule. “A useful hack is to find what you want to do instead of letting life push you. In this way, you find yourself more a master of your life.”

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Delft mama of the week: Sine

Sine invites me to her house for the interview. When we step in the elevator she tells me many of her neighbours are older people. She loves it, as they are very curious about her son, Arda (4). Just like herself, her husband Faruk also originates from Turkey. When biological grandparents are a plane ride away, living among the elderly is giving their family some invaluable contacts that otherwise might be harder to come by.

It’s the first time I visit Sine in her home. The Sun is shining outside and laying rays on the two yellow armchairs in front of their living room windows. The style of the home is impeccable and it feels welcoming. Sine tells me she could’ve chosen her career path differently and pursue one of her dreams of becoming a designer. She sure has the eye and the taste level for it. However, Sine chose another one of her passions and decided to study English language and literature at the University of Gaziantep in southern Turkey. That is also where she met Faruk.

When I listen to her stories, she comes across like a bit of a nomad. Both of her parents are from Circassian descent, both of whom are born in Turkey. Circassia was a sovereign nation until the mid-19th century on the shore of the Black Sea with its own rich language and cultural heritage. Her name, Sine, is a typical Circassian name, so although born and raised in Turkey, her parents valued their heritage and Sine was already happily living between two worlds.

Her first experience outside Turkey by herself was her three-month trip to Alaska through a work and travel program and afterwards she knew she couldn’t settle in Turkey for good. During their University years Faruk applied U.S. Green Card lottery and asked her to try as well. She calls her last year at the University her “lucky year”, because not only was Sine granted a chance to study in Denmark, but she also won a Green Card. Instead of spending an entire year in Denmark, she spent three months there and then moved to New York with her husband.

The nearly seven years they spent in New York were great but tough. When Arda was born, the grandparents from both sides would fly from Turkey and babysit him one after another. “In New York we had fun, but we did work a lot. When I was studying in Turkey, I was reading about American history and about the American dream, but in New York life was different. You don’t have much time to spend with your family,” Sine points out. When Arda was born, Faruk didn’t get to see him almost at all. Luckily Sine’s work at a non-profit organization was more flexible, but in the long run something needed to change. Out of all places, the family relocated to Oklahoma.

The first three months in Oklahoma were great, but soon enough Sine realized she misses the big international community around her, which she had gotten used to while working in Manhattan. Some years in, Sine realized she wasn’t very happy in Oklahoma. The window of the opportunity to move to another country was closing in, because Arda was getting older and soon they would have to think about settling down for a longer period.

In 2014 the family visited Maastricht during their holiday in Europe. It was then the spark for the Netherlands was ignited. In 2016 Sine’s husband arrived in Delft for a job interview and in September they moved to this picturesque town. It wasn’t a smooth transition, especially with the housing and picking a school, but one of the aspects that made the move easier was a great online community happy and quick to answer Sine’s questions. “I found Delft MaMa when I was searching for how to do something in Delft. Whenever I had questions in my mind I asked them. I joined the group before I came here and they helped me a lot about many questions, and got me socializing quickly”, Sine says. Sine also took part in a DMM organized soft-landing in Delft, or SLiDe program for short, and after seven months of experience on living in Delft she felt confident enough to mentor another Turkish newcomer.

Because of her keen eye, Sine has been volunteering for the DMM even further to help with the 10-year anniversary preparations. “I like doing things like decorating and currently I have enough time to help with these kinds of things. A lot of other organizations in the Netherlands require a lot of Dutch. Delft MaMa is more international”, our mom of the week points out.

People often ask Sine if they moved to the Netherlands, because statistically some of the happiest kids in the world live there, but she tells me it wasn’t the reason. “To me it seems the kids are happy, because from my point of view it’s such a luxurious thing to spend breakfast time with family in the morning, then bring the kids to school that is at a walking or cycling distance, have time to stay at school for a moment, go to work and be back home for dinner.”

In the end, when I ask about Sine’s cultural identity, she says to me she feels more Circassian than Turkish, more American than Turkish, but when she must say where home is, it’s Turkey. “Maybe in 10 years I’ll say I’m more Dutch, who knows. To me, it’s having the best of both worlds. I want my son to grow up in an environment with people from different cultures. We had that in New York and I loved that aspect so much. Delft is no New York, but it has a big international community. I feel so lucky,” Sine says happily.

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Delft mama of the week: Marie

I met Marie for first time last year when she started hosting the Delft MaMa playgroup. She is currently the playgroup coordinator and she’s taking part in several other DMM projects as well.

We sit down together on display on the window of Hummus in Delft and order hot beverages. It’s Saturday and she’s coming straight from mindfulness yoga. It fits the first impression I had of her: a calm mom oozing nothing but serenity, but Marie tells me laughing her yoga classes were a gift from her husband, who hopes she can find it easier to relax a bit. Marie has been called too serious all her life, because of her amazing drive and ambition, so she has made a conscious effort of finding ways to loosen up a bit. To her luck, becoming a mother has been one of the things that has helped her in her quest.

Marie has been calling the Netherlands home for a few years. She used to travel a lot first for her studies: a scholarship took her from her home in the US to Paris when she was only 16, and later during her undergraduate studies Marie spent a semester in Brazil, two summers in Russia and one summer in Paris, where she also completed her master’s degree. Later in life her project based work took her from Scotland to Singapore and everywhere in between. She loves Brazil and says Vietnam is one of her favorite countries. But the love of her life, a Chinese man Junzi, Marie met by coincidence in the Netherlands.

When Marie was expecting their son, now a 1-year-old William, the married couple decided to settle down in Delft. Earlier having spent her time visiting new countries and cities every two to three weeks, Marie was sure she’d go out of her mind in such a small place as Delft. She had good friends in The Hague and in Haarlem, but she was missing a closer safety net. “When I first had William, I wasn’t meeting others very much, but I knew about Delft MaMa. When he was 5-6 months old, I decided to come to the playgroup”, Marie says. Meeting other moms allowed her to create her own social circles in Delft and thanks to this simple plan followed by action she’s much more involved in the community and to her surprise has yet to feel bored in the beautiful medieval town.

Marie speaks several languages fluently (English, French, Portuguese, Russian) and is constantly pushing the envelope with useful things to learn. She is currently taking Dutch lessons and teaching herself Chinese and she’s soon traveling to China with William to stay with her in-laws for a month to get more immersed in the language. She has always been hard-working and extremely driven at school and at work. Before becoming a mother, she describes herself as having been “definitely workaholic”. As one might assume, it has been a big adjustment fitting in the stay-at-home-mom shoes.

Lately Marie has been increasingly thinking about returning to work. The original plan – to return to work when William was three months old – didn’t go through. She realized the plans she had made before the birth of her child weren’t what she wanted and she listened to her heart instead. “Outsiders often think I’m calm, but I feel it’s the opposite! The main struggle now is should I go back to work or should I stay with William,” Marie explains.

The struggle is familiar to if not all, to most mothers. Marie says she knows she shouldn’t compare her own situation to her friends who are working in very prestigious positions around the world, but she can’t help but think about the opportunities she had, the good schools she went to and the professional ambition she to this day has. Now that William is one year old, Marie started to apply to again. She has sent out tons of applications, but hasn’t gotten that much interesting feedback. “It’s always difficult when you’re used to having a job and now I have to think how much I want a certain job and how much I want to stay at home with William. He’ll never be young again, but maybe if I stay out of work too long, I might have more difficulties finding a good job”, Marie says.

She often thinks about why work is so important for people in general. In the more distant past people didn’t define themselves by their work, but now it seems to be one of the first questions people ask each other. Before Marie didn’t mind this question at all, but lately she noticed how defining this question sounds. “It makes you think why do we value work so much as the value of the individual, when it doesn’t represent much at all. Of course it can, but oftentimes it doesn’t,” Marie says and explains how these days a specific job isn’t always what someone chooses to do, as it depends a lot about circumstances one can’t control. “If I’m philosophical enough I’d say would it matter if I’m working or not? What I’m doing is probably more valuable than what a lot of work people do,” she rightfully says at the end of our talk.

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Delft Mama of the week: Natali

I’m meeting our mom of the week at café Kek in the center of Delft. I’m early, but she’s already sitting by the table working. Behind her there are frames with cool drawings, including one with a feather.

Feather seems to be a reoccurring thing for our mom of the week, Natali. It’s also on the cover of her book, The Path Keeper, that came out recently. When I ask about the meaning of the feather, she smiles and says I need to read her book to figure out. After her first novel came out, she has already been compared to no other than George R. R. Martin. Natali has a book deal in her pocket for two more books, coming out in February 2018 and 2019.

Natali was born in London, but grew up in Barcelona until her 7th year when she returned to London with her mother. As a daughter to an English teacher and a Catalan graphic designer, language and art have always been steadily present in her life. Mirroring to her background Natali has had a great career in marketing and publishing, working for publications such as Cosmopolitan Magazine and Harpers & Queen (now known as Harper’s Bazaar).

Before settling down, Natali spent 14 months backpacking on her own. During this trip she met her English husband, Peter. Isabelle (8) was born in London, but Peter’s work took the family to the province of Malaga in Spain and the second daughter of the family, Olivia (6), soon followed. “I went from being a London girl having a really cool job to a relaxed mom in Spain,” Natali says and tells me that’s when she got into writing. No family and friends to balance the plate, yet raising two small daughters she had to find a way to work around it. Natali set up her own freelance marketing company, got extremely involved with the local wedding industry and worked in the lifestyle sector. “It was a really good fun, but then my husband got a job in the Netherlands, the children were getting into the age where as much as we love the beach, they needed more culture and diversity,” Natali explains their reasons for moving to Delft.

Before setting a foot on the Dutch soil for the next three years, Natali had already joined the Delft MaMa community. She deliberately looked for it, because she’s the founder of a similar mom group for English speaking expats in Costa del Sol, and figured there must be one in Delft too. Joining the parenting community before arriving was important as it gave Natali and her family a chance to establish friends and contacts before arriving.

Sharing her experiences to empower the mothers around her has been really important for our mom of the week. “For the last few years I have wanted to do a workshop called “moms with ambition” for women who are in that transitionary state of motherhood, having been somebody, being a mom, wanting to go back to who they are, were, but struggling, because they aren’t the same person anymore.” She sees the huge potential to do cool projects with like-minded Delft Mamas and has already been planning some workshops.

Her book is written for young adults, but many of her readers are over their 30’s. Natali points out something that many of us might not have realized before: “Empowering mothers and empowering teenage girls is very similar. We’re hormonal, making that transition, trying to discover or find themselves.” During her book tour she has visited schools and talked to a lot of teenage girls. Even if Natali can make one child think they can do it because of her encouraging words and outstanding example, it’s all that matters to her.

Since Natali was little, she has always been writing stories and drawing pictures. She filled a notebook after another during her nomad years, but only when she moved to Spain she tapped into something she had always loved and she got serious about writing. “You don’t realize you’ve always been something until you start doing it professionally”, Natali says. During her years in Spain she co-founded an online magazine The Glass House Girls that has tens of thousands of followers, she joined a writing class and started writing her book. “I never really lacked confidence. I always felt you should be allowed to do what you want to do, which is sometimes difficult as a mom. Going on the writing class enriched me. My teacher gave me a lot of feedback and told me I could write,” Natali explains. She surrounded herself with other writers and after years of writing, she finished her book. That’s when the work started. “When you’ve been three years writing something, getting a publishing deal feels like the end, but it’s actually the beginning. You then have to be very patient, because it’s a very slow process,” she states.

Although Natali doesn’t write like most people, she has come to realize the style doesn’t matter as long as what you have in the end works. She processes absolutely every aspect of her story in her head before simply typing it down. “Don’t worry about doing it right”, she says about her experience and continues saying experimenting is the key, but the most important thing is to have a story that is engaging. “Really open yourself up, pour yourself onto the pages. Don’t be scared or embarrassed about making yourself vulnerable, because you have to and that’s why it’s so difficult to be creative. You’re throwing your heart out and waiting for everyone to give their opinion and they are all different. That’s being an artist,” Natali sums it up with a profound insight.

If you want to meet Natali, she’ll be at the Comic Con in Utrecht 25-26 of March.

The Path Keeper is available on Amazon.com The book contains sex and strong language.

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